I recently saw an article claiming the average cost of a “contested divorce” in Colorado is $14,500. Why do some divorces cost so much? Because “contested” means the two parties in the divorce don’t agree. They are fighting over property division, debt division and parenting. Disputes over any one of these, two or all three means a lot of Court time and attorney time devoted to a case. Alternatively, if the parties agree upon all or most issues, a divorce will likely not exceed $5000—even with attorneys involved.
Parenting Issues: Fighting over Children—whether justified by safety concerns or other motivation—is a huge factor in the high cost of divorce. Experts may be retained, Court hearings may be necessary to create a temporary or final parenting plan, and the process may be prolonged so that evaluations and investigations can be conducted. Experts are expensive, delays are expensive and appearing in Court is expensive. The more the case requires of any of these, the greater the cost.
Property Issues: Dividing “property” usually takes one of two forms. Either the couple does not care much about the property division—knowing they may pay more in attorney’s fees and court costs to fight over the property than the property is worth—or they care deeply, and the property is worth the fight. Often a couple does not even realize that something is considered “property” and must be divided in the divorce. Retirement accounts and pensions are often overlooked or forgotten. It comes as a surprise to most that something only one party earned or believed they purchased with their “own” money—rather than marital funds, gets divided as “marital property”. Property can be anything from a family business or multi-national company to real estate to bank accounts to 401(k) accounts to retirement pensions to jewelry to collectibles (including cars and antiques) to furniture to pictures on the wall to the dishes in the cupboard and the forks in the kitchen drawer. All of the property that is to be divided by the Court (rather than through agreement of the parties) must be valued, increasing the cost of a divorce.
The property in a divorce not only has actual value, but it can also have unique and sentimental value to the parties. Sometimes a power struggle is waged because one party wants an item and the other knows its meaning to the other person—and will interfere for the emotional impact they can deliver. When the parties can’t agree on how to divide the property, the Court must hold a trial and divide the property with Court Orders. A trial and Court Orders mean attorney time to prepare, determine values through experts or other means, negotiate, advocate, mediate, plan for trial and finally appear at trial so the Court can issue Orders. Experts to determine values, such as accountants and appraisers to value businesses or real estate may need to be hired and their testimony and reports presented at trial. Using the Court to divide property, rather than agreeing upon this issue, is the most expensive way to proceed in a divorce.
Debt: Fighting about debt has both an emotional and a practical component for any divorce. We know the debts must be paid and we have to figure out how they will be paid. Unfortunately, a divorce often leaves a couple financially devastated for a period of years. This is the worst time, emotionally and practically, to have to figure out how the debts are going to be divided and paid. However, dividing the debts and assuming responsibility for certain debts must be done. The attorney must figure out a way the debts are balanced by the assets in accord with Colorado law—but also in a realistic way that the debts get paid. It makes no sense to ask the Court to award joint marital debt to someone who cannot or will not pay the debt. To do so would only harm the other party with bad credit ratings, collection efforts or garnishments.
Blaming a spouse for incurring a lot of credit card debt may be justified and the innocent party may demand the other pay that debt. However, if the crazily spending spouse is not employed or doesn’t earn enough to pay the credit card debt, blame only gets you so far. The debt must still be paid. So, the attorney has to figure out how to balance assets and debts to compensate the person who is going to be paying the credit card debt. Sometimes a bankruptcy is necessary but more often creative financing—through the attorney and client working together to find solutions to get the debts paid–is the answer. Remember, though, working together means attorney time and cost. Learn more about the importance of having a divorce lawyer in Colorado Springs.
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